Walking into Market District, Giant Eagle's more upscale grocery store brand, shoppers might be greeted with a painted portrait of Bradley Cooper in the 2011 thriller Limitless looming over a display of Limitless caffeinated sparkling water. Throughout the rest of the store, there are more hand-painted signs for fruit, cheese, bread, and other products. Outside of public view, in the back of every Market District store, is a studio where artists hand-paint signage, produce, and celebrity portraits.
Rachel Dawn Renaudin is the visual merchandiser at the Market District in Shadyside. She painted the Bradley Cooper portrait, and along with a graphic artist, Dawn Petryk, she's in charge of making all the hand-painted signage, typography, and thematic displays in the store.
Renaudin's house is filled with her paintings (not the ones from Market District — those stay in storage, or are raffled off to employees). At work, she uses acrylic paints, but in her free time and for freelance work, she specializes in oil painting. There is a room in the house used only for storing and showing off paintings, and a basement she uses as a personal studio. In the living room, there's a large and detailed painting of a vintage Mr. Potato head display in a toy store. Under that, there's a blue-hued portrait of John Mayer on stage with Dead & Company. There's an extreme close-up on a woman's face with marbles floating in front of it, and another of a bright sunset, and another of a friend who underwent a double-mastectomy, scars and all.
Currently, Renaudin has a few pieces at the Latrobe Art Center and periodically shows elsewhere in the city.
Before she worked at Market District, Renaudin worked as an instructor at the Monroeville branch of Painting with a Twist, a paint and sip studio. Before that, she waited tables for a while after graduating from Edinboro University. Before that, she lived with her family, including three brothers, in a trailer home in Townville, a town(ville) in northern Pennsylvania with a population under 1,000 ("Ville means town so I'm from towntown," she says). She was homeschooled until the age of 15 when her father died, and then started going to high school, where she became heavily involved with the arts program. "If I ever had a study hall, I was in the art room," she says.
Sometimes Renaudin gets commissioned to paint portraits or pets or cars. Last year, someone had her paint John Stamos' head to hang in his game room (Stamos liked it on Instagram, in case you’re wondering).
Her paintings are distinct for their close detail and vivid colors, especially in portraits, which is one of her favorite things to paint. "It will never get tiring for me to paint flesh because I love and am drawn to color and flesh reflects so much color," Renaudin says. "Depending on how the light hits your face and where the sun is, everything's gonna change color. We have muscle and we have blood and it all connects where you can get this limitless canvas of colors."
Renaudin applies that to her Market District job when she can, like with the celebrity portraits, which first began with a painting of Christopher Walken after he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Bai infusion drinks with Justin Timberlake (#baibaibai). People don't usually expect a corporate grocery store to have an off-beat sense of humor, like using a painting of Lionel Richie to sell tea with "Hello. Is it tea you're looking for?"
"I think that's a lot of times why people love the celebrities," she says. "It's captivating and it's strange, but then it's humorous that it ties in with the whole theme of the display."
Hand-painted signs in grocery stores are not unique to Market District; stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods – ones that want to convey an artisanal or curated quality – also have them. While it does involve lending artistic talent to a large corporation, the job is a rare one for artists, especially with a background in fine art. There are few full-time jobs in Pittsburgh that would pay an artist to paint every day. And the corporate side of Giant Eagle isn't going to object to the more creative signs, like using a painting of Log Lady from Twin Peaks to sell actual logs, because it's the most Instagrammable thing in the store.
For Renaudin, sharing her art on social media is a cool bonus, but she prefers them to be seen face-to-face. "Although our phones are so great at capturing all the different facets, life is so rich and I wanna bring that with my paintings," she says. "My paintings are definitely meant to be seen in person.”